One of my best friends didn't wake up last Wednesday.
He was 45. It makes no sense, far beyond the customary shock that comes from anyone seemingly in peak health abruptly crossing over. Dennis was my most animated and effortlessly vibrant friend. The company he kept in so many other circles unfamiliar with our own would say the same thing about him.
My little world got darker last Wednesday. A lot of other little worlds dimmed too.
Just weeks ago we were making plans to descend on Bloomington, Indiana for the IU-Ohio State season opener next month. Last week I found myself doing a web search for Plainfield, Indiana to find out where that is and how to get to the funeral home where I would say goodbye to him, simultaneously too soon and too late.
The march of time is ruthless. It does not give a shit about any of our plans. It also has no offseason. Every day is game day. No one had any idea last Wednesday would end up being his.
As the initial shock wore off I watched online as Dennis tributes poured in from his other little worlds: Dennis and happy friends at Cubs games. Dennis and other friends at Blackhawks games. Dennis and even more friends at Bears games. Dennis and I attending B1G football games; there wasn't a major American sport I failed to take in with him in attendance, as he and I accomplished that Grand Slam together. Dennis and his girlfriend at even more Cubs games.
These were the memories available on film that his friends from all of those little worlds chose to share in grieving his passing at a moment's notice. As an outsider, if you saw this hasty In Memoriam compiled by a hundred different authors who did not know each other you could draw an easy and correct conclusion: Dennis spent a good chunk of his life cheering for other people.
He was exceptionally good at it too; so good that the people he cheered for regularly ended up reciprocating and becoming Dennis fans themselves. Eddie Vedder, Chris Chelios, and Theo Epstein were among the many who crashed his wake last week. People he cheered for far and wide descended from their worlds to say goodbye to a guy who always felt like their biggest fan.
Dennis was almost pathologically optimistic about the people he cheered. This was an actual conversation we had regularly:
DENNIS: Do you ever imagine what it would be like if IU won the BCS championship?
DENNIS: But what if-
We had the same "conversation" about the Cubs, for decades. I refused to buy into the fantasy that Chicago's north side baseball team could do anything but throw 81 great parties a year, because investing too much of myself in a flat penny stock like that could only produce disappointment. That investment philosophy - and the Cleveland Indians - denied me a huge payoff last November. Denny earned a hefty lifetime annuity.
The first positive thought that crossed my mind last week was that Dennis survived long enough to see the 2016 World Series, and the collages of him in pinstripes holding a beer with a dozen people I knew and hundreds I didn't suggested it was common relief. There was never a good enough reason his baseball team couldn't win it all. Similarly, there was no reason his alma mater's football team couldn't win it all. There was no reason his hockey team couldn't win it all. There was no reason all of his friends couldn't win it all.
That's a reckless investment of emotion, especially when you consider how cruel the march of time, its lack of an offseason and its callous disregard for fairness can be. But that's how Dennis placed his bets. He was all-in, all the time, for everything he cared about - and he was effortlessly vibrant about it. The best way to earn a stalemate in the losing game against time is to find out what you're good at and do as much of it as possible until your number is called.
It was the basis for his career in sales. It was also the foundation for all of his relationships.
The first text I received after Ohio State beat Oregon in Arlington (as Buckeyes were still storming the field and not a second sooner; Cubs fans know better than to jinx anything prematurely) was from Dennis, who hated Ohio State. He was just thrilled for me personally, and being that kind of an advocate was him in his element.
What else would you like to know about him? That he the best kind of friend, the infectious laughter guy, the bear hug guy, the loudest guy in the room who always made you feel like the only one in the room guy? That he started dating Sammi while she was still bald from chemotherapy and put her and her children on a pedestal? That he spent three of his final weeks in isolation with her in treatment after her cancer returned?
Of course he was, and of course he did. That should fit the profile at this point.
Dennis spent a good chunk of his life cheering for other people, and it wasn't an extraordinary act of selflessness. It was his normal and it was his usual, because it was his strength. He earned a rare stalemate against time in just 45 years because he found out what he was good at doing that he enjoyed doing and he nailed it, every day.
Time does not give a shit about your plans. But triumph does not give a shit about time. It has no offseason either. That's not a job posting or a career contemplation; it's a revelation. If time can't be stopped then stop fighting it. Render it meaningless. Rob it of its inevitable victory. That's how the greatest fan I've ever known will live forever, even though he's gone.
That only seems impossible. Just like the Cubs winning a World Series.